On breaking up while you're still in love
For most of my life, I had believed that break-ups only occurred after some terrible breach of trust. Some act of infidelity. There was a specific instance you could pinpoint where one person did something unforgivable and therein would be the impetus for the break up. But what if you had to break up when neither person had committed some awful relationship sin? How are you supposed to cope with that?
Not easily as it turns out. Breaking up with someone you love sometimes feels like the worst kind of breakup. The feelings are intact, but you’ve still decided that there isn’t a future. If this is a difficult and painful conclusion you’ve come to at some point in your life, I feel you. I’ve been there. And I totally understand what you’re experiencing.
Something feels off. The two of you are good together, you back each other up, support each other’s endeavors, and know that you deeply love them. But…something is lurking in the back of your mind. Maybe it’s doubt. Maybe you’re not ready for this level of serious. You might not even be able to pinpoint the exact reason, but you also can’t shake it. It can be easy to ignore an intuitive feeling when you know it will lead to heartache, but there is a reason that something is bothering you.
You can’t agree on major life decisions. Someone wants babies! Someone doesn’t! Someone wants marriage, someone doesn’t. Someone isn’t sure what they want, but they don’t want the pressure of “maybe you’ll change your mind later.” One person might have a dream of living abroad for a year. Whatever it is, you need to know what your deal breaker is and be honest with yourself. If you really don’t want kids and the person you’re with adamantly does, you need to figure out if either side is going to give in on this point. And if not, you realize that you’re both envisioning entirely different futures.
Love is not always enough to keep a relationship together. I have been guilty of the avoidance dance. I once spent over two weeks desperately trying to figure out a way to not have to break up with a guy whom I really loved. I knew deep down that he wasn’t giving me everything that I needed in a relationship to feel good about a future with him, but I kept reasoning that I couldn’t also throw away all the good stuff we had. Knowing that I felt something was missing deep in my gut kept nagging at me and I knew I needed to break it off.
It’s really painful. In the couple of instances when I’ve found myself in this position, the pain has been blinding. It’s fierce and unrelenting, and has left me curled up in my bed for days on end, with “When Harry Met Sally” running on a loop on my television. There’s no anger over something they did to temper the despondent feeling of no longer being with them. Lots of tissues and lots of ice cream are utilized here.
You might second-guess yourself. After any break-up, there seems to almost always be a period of “what did I do, maybe this can be fixed” and this is no different. Except in this case, it’s probably even easier to slip back into thinking that you belong together while you’re in the throes of being miserable and missing that person. And hey, anything is possible, but an overabundance of any emotion can prevent you from seeing clearly and it’s important to remember that you did feel something that instigated you to break up.
But know that this is not a failure. One of the worst feelings I had during that time was the sense that somehow I had failed. If there was love, why wasn’t that enough? Did I want too much? Is that why something felt like it was missing, because I was too needy or unrealistic in my expectations for the relationship. Until I realized all of these questions were all confirming that I had made the right decision. If I had to curtail what I instinctually knew that I needed emotionally to make a relationship work, then I for sure was with the wrong person. No matter how much I loved them. Sometimes relationships aren’t meant to go the distance, not for lack of love or trying, it’s just the way it is, and that in no way reflects any kind of personal failing.
[Image via IFC]